Best modeling and 3D scanning software for Mac
Even though it plays such an important role, software rarely grabs the headlines whenever there is a discussion on 3D technology. You are more likely to hear about swanky new 3D scanners, 3D printers, or even ground-breaking 3D printing materials. The 3D software that brings this all together is often just a footnote in the discourse – almost an afterthought. When it is mentioned, you’ll be hard-pressed to find dedicated software for Mac; the overwhelming majority of 3D scanning software is built for the Windows platform – or Windows + Linux, if you’re lucky. Hard as it is to find, it is out there if you know where to look. So in this article, we round up some of the best 3D scanning and 3D modeling software for Mac computers, both free and paid.
Best free 3D modeling software for Mac
- Easy to use
- Great for beginners
- Works with .stl and .obj files
- Extremely limited functionality
3D Slash is designed to be easy and fun to use, with no real training required. It feels less like an engineering tool and more like a game. In fact, it has often been compared to Minecraft, a video game set in a 3D world in which players build structures using different kinds of blocks. This also makes it great for students, children, or anyone just starting out.
3D Slash enables you to add voxels to a shape or carve them away. So you literally sculpt your 3D model using tools like the hammer, chisel, or even a drill. You can start with a cube, for example, and chip away at it until you get the shape you want. You can also build onto your 3D model by adding resizable voxels to it.
Unfortunately, this is about as far as the software goes. Beyond these features there isn’t much else you can do, and its limited functionality makes it unsuitable for professional, real world use.
3D Slash is available as a downloadable app or as a web-based application that you can access using your browser, though, this is more limited. Under the free plan, you get access only to the web-based application, with only a trial version of the downloadable app available.
- Guided lessons to help you get started
- Completely free to use
- Extremely easy and fun to use, great for beginners
- Provides adequate functionality to enable you to design and 3D print functional prototypes
- Web-based application with no offline functionality
- Not a full-fledged 3D modeling and design software
TinkerCAD is another 3D modeling software that is great for beginners and, as the name suggests, tinkerers. It is especially suitable for use in the classroom, and provides a useful starting point for people who want to learn how to design in 3D space. TinkerCAD is also clearly designed to be fun to use. You can choose, for example, to view your project as a LEGO or MineCraft world.
Once you register and log on to the platform, you get access to a range of tools, shapes, and templates that you can use to start designing and building your 3D models. You can also import .obj, .stl, and .svg objects into your project. TinkerCAD displays measurements according to the settings you define for the grid.
You can create complex shapes by grouping primitives and adding or subtracting shapes to and from each other. You can even scribble onto the workspace, and the shape you draw will be transformed into a 3D shape that you can modify.
TinkerCAD provides options to export your project to different formats, including .stl, .obj, and .svg for the next step of your workflow.
- Provides extensive features for professional animators, VFX artists, 3D modelers, and video game developers
- Completely free to use
- Not resource-hungry. Light download and installation
- Plenty of online tutorials
- Reports of lagging, glitching, and slow rendering, although this may be down to hardware limitations
- Multi-functionality can be counter-intuitive in some workflows
- Steep learning curve
Blender is an open-source program that is available on several platforms, including macOS. It offers 3D design and animation tools that can be suitable for professional use. It is a feature-rich package that provides solutions for many 3D applications including modeling, animation, rendering, compositing, motion tracking, game creation, and even video editing.
Blender has been around for quite some time, and since it is open source, there are lots of free online resources and tutorials to help you get acquainted with the software. It is also constantly improving with new features, and capabilities continue to be added by an active community of contributors.
- Advanced geometry engine
- Wide range of tools to work with solids, BRep objects, curves, and surfaces
- Possible to install add-ons and extend functionality
- Reports of the software crashing
- Doesn’t have a very intuitive user interface
- Steep learning curve for new users
- Some users have complained about insufficient documentation for some features
FreeCAD is another open-source 3D modeling software designed for professional use, primarily with mechanical designers in mind. The software is cross-platform, and can be used on Windows, Linux, and Mac devices.
With FreeCAD, you are able to sketch 2D shapes with geometric constraints. You can then use these shapes to create 3D primitives and build objects of any size. You can also use FreeCAD to create high-quality drawings from 3D models.
The software can read and export to many file formats, including SVG, DXF, OBJ, IFC, STEP, IGES, STL, and DAE, among others. This makes it easy to fit the software into your existing process, be it 3D printing, CNC machining, carrying out tasks such as Finite Element Analyses, or calculating and exporting model data like quantities or bills of materials. Additionally, the open source FreeCAD offers the possibility of supplementing its functionality with add-ons.
- Easy to use
- Compatible with several CAD and 3D file formats, can be integrated into different workflows
- For professionals, free version is extremely limited
SketchUp is a web-based 3D modeling software designed with ease of use in mind. Unlike 3D Slash or TinkerCAD, however, it is not meant to just provide limited functionality for beginners, hobbyists, or casual users. SketchUp is meant to be used in a wide variety of professional applications. This includes highly technical use cases like civil engineering, video game development, industrial design, and product design.
SketchUp comes in two versions, SketchUp Free (the very helpfully named free version), and SketchUp Pro, which offers additional features at a cost. SketchUp Pro may be designed for professionals to use, and if you are in this camp, that’s what you’ll need – the free version isn’t exactly packed with all the features that industry-standard 3D modeling software has.
SketchUp Free is meant to make sketching in 3D easy – and that’s about it. You will quickly hit the ceiling of what the free software can do, and find yourself needing to upgrade to the pro version. The free version lacks some tools that professionals would find useful such as work presentation features, terrain modeling and solid tools, and tools for drawing construction plans. It is also not possible to create 3D models from 2D construction plans, or to use extensions. If you require very high levels of complexity in your models, this might not be the solution for you.
SketchUp Free is not completely crippling in its limitations, though. With a no-credit-card-required subscription, you get 10 GB of cloud storage, the ability to view your 3D models using the mobile app, and access to a catalog of models that you can use in your projects.
Best paid 3D modeling software for Mac
$1,700 per year
- Extensive features enable you to perform most tasks
- Hardware requirements to install and run Maya are high compared to some software
- Quite a steep learning curve
Maya is a cross-platform application that is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is a feature-rich program that has tools for 3D animation, 3D modeling, 3D rendering and shading, motion graphics, and other features and effects used to bring 3D worlds and characters to life. Maya has been used to design 3D objects that have featured in award-winning movies, and also in games and commercials. The software has intuitive modeling tools used to do for everything from simulating cloth, to entire landscapes, and even battle scenes.
Maya’s extensive toolset has options for 3D modeling using polygons and NURBS, so you can create 3D models from geometric primitives, lines and curves. It also has tools for sculpting and UV editing. The software supports a variety of file types. It can read several file formats, including, for instance, Adobe Illustrator files. However, Maya can only export mayaLT, FBX, OBJ files.
Single-user license: €995
- Advanced free-form 3D modeling tools
- Can be used to design, prototype, engineer, analyze, and manufacture anything from an airplane to jewelry
- Read and output file formats compatible with most 3D-related software
- Steep learning curve
- Users have mentioned that the UI needs some improvement
- Large files reportedly slow to save
- Documentation tools could be improved
Rhino is a professional 3D modeling software that is used for a variety of purposes in several fields. It is used in the 3D printing and reverse engineering workflows for design, manufacturing, and prototyping and has applications in industrial design, product design, and graphic design among many others.
The program is a freeform surface modeler with an open, modular architecture. It is therefore possible to expand its capabilities using plugins, to customize its interface, and add your own menus and commands.
Rhino is popular for its ability to work with different kinds of data. It can be used to edit NURBS curves, SubD data, point clouds, and polygon meshes. This makes it a versatile tool that can be used in different workflows. It has therefore found applications in industries as varied as jewelry, marine, and rendering and animation.
- $1,500 per user, per year (standard)
- $2,100 per user, per year (professional)
- Easy to use
- Gentle learning curve
- Has version control and access control features for easy collaboration
- Lack of offline access may hamper larger projects
- UI might take some time to master due to unfamiliarity
OnShape is a web-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that provides CAD functionality, business analytics, and cloud-based data management and collaboration features. OnShape’s workflow enables teams to review, comment on, and edit designs in real time. Similar to version control systems, design changes can be made in parallel and then merged into a final design upon approval. The fact that OnShape is a cloud-based platform means that it can be used on different platforms and with devices with limited hardware capabilities.
This software is used to create solid and surface models that can be used in various industries. You can also use it to create detailed drawings of machine parts including aspects such as surface finish, and geometric tolerances. It is also possible to produce an automatically synchronized bill of materials while you edit your assembly. OnShape’s capabilities can be further enhanced by building additional functionality onto the platform’s REST API. Additional features that relate to resource planning, and other extensions can be added from the OnShape App Store.
- Business pricing available from vendor on request
- Free for individuals
- Features powerful tools for 3D sketching & modeling
- Able to integrate images & 3D assets with textures and materials
- Easy to use
- Real time collaboration
- Design across devices
- Not suitable for sculpting, painting or creating 3D print-ready models
- Requires significant post processing
Image source: Gravity Sketch/YouTube.
Gravity Sketch is a 3D design software that enables you to create free-form 3D sketches and detailed 3D models. If needed, these can then be used in CAD and rendering software. Gravity Sketch uses a VR modeling environment and can export file types like .obj, .iges, and .fbx. It also supports the Rhino plugin.
Gravity Sketch can be used to create 3D models from scratch, or with CAD data imported from other software. This data can be visualized and manipulated using Virtual Reality tools. It also comes with cloud compatibility, which makes collaboration in distributed teams easier. This software is great for concept sketching and modeling. So designers, illustrators, and artists will get the most out of it. However, the models created in Gravity Sketch need quite a bit of work before they can be 3D-print-ready.
- 30-day free trial
- Easy to use
- Scan-to-CAD features
- Easy and fast mesh-to-CAD alignment
- Native CGI and metrological photogrammetry capabilities
- Compatible with Artec 3D scanners only
- Works via Bootcamp
You can use Bootcamp to set up a Windows environment on your Mac and install Artec Studio – one of the most versatile 3D scanning and processing software on the market – without any issues. Artec Studio is an all-in-one scanning and 3D data processing software with the advanced features required by industry professionals. In Artec Studio, you can work with both mechanical and freeform shapes, you can quickly and intuitively fit CAD primitives to 3D models, with countless subtle UX features that ease and speed up actions during the process. You can save and export files in various formats for use in other software. You can, for instance, export STEP files directly to SOLIDWORKS, or create complex meshes that can be used in Design X or Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS.
Artec Studio’s Metrology Kit plugin adds photogrammetry for metrology features to the Artec environment. In one fully integrated workflow, it enables you to import images and generate OBC point clouds, and use those in measurement-related applications, or as reference data for 3D scanning large objects and scenes. With the Photo Texture feature, you get CGI photogrammetry capabilities as well. You can take high-res, geometrically accurate scan data, and wrap it with high-resolution images from your camera to produce stunning, full-color, photorealistic 3D models for use in CGI, VR/AR, and animation. Artec Studio can work with datasets of up to 500 million polygons, meaning working with large objects at high resolution is not a challenge. You can quickly process scanned data in Autopilot, or take greater control and use manual presets.
Find the solution that works for you
At the end of the day, the solution you settle on will depend on your technical needs, the resources you have, and your level of expertise. There are both free and paid options available for you to choose from, and different solutions for different industry needs, whether you are a creative artist or an engineer.